The Real Reason You Should Stop Eating Catfish

There's no arguing that fried catfish is heavenly. Southerners will tell you that eating deep-fried, cornmeal-dredged catfish with a side of tangy coleslaw isn't just delicious. It's a ritual (via The New York Times). 

Good luck debating that point. If the majority of catfish we bought in the United States came from the United States we might not debate it. But it doesn't. US catfish production is falling dramatically, thanks to an increase in imports from Vietnam and Southern China (via US News and World Report). And as Townsend Kyser III, president of the Catfish Farmers of America, will tell you, the United States does not inspect imports from South Asia with the same rigor as it does domestically farmed catfish. It depends heavily on the importing countries to monitor the safety of their fish (via Aquaculture Magazine). And these countries set dramatically different standards for the amounts of drugs (mostly antibiotics and antifungals) that a catfish can consume before being harvested for human consumption. 

Are imported catfish taking illicit drugs?

Evidence collected by the United State's Government Accountability Office suggests that significant quantities of imported Catfish are taking illicit drugs. Between 2016 and 2017, for example, the USDA's Food and Safety Inspection Service found "unsafe drug residues" in 20 shipments worth of 422,000 pounds of catfish, primarily from Vietnam and China. That's probably because the Vietnamese government holds it's producers to different standards than the United States does. Sometimes the standards are dramatically different. In the case of one antibiotic, the residue level that Vietnam considers to be a violation is 30 times higher than what the United States considers to be a violation.

Needless to say, eating fish with antibiotics and antifungal residues is unhealthy. Why? According to Public Health Reviews, such consumption can lead to "antimicrobial drug resistance, hypersensitivity reaction, carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, teratogenicity, bone marrow depression, and disruption of normal intestinal flora."  

More worrying still is that imported, drugged fish are falling through the cracks. In 2019, due to violations, federal officials recalled more than 121,151 pounds of imported catfish from Bangladesh and Myanmar (via Food Safety News) and 154,500 pounds of imported catfish from Vietnam (via Food Safety News). According to the USDA, some of the recalled fish weren't even eligible to be exported in the first place. 

Our advice? The next time you're reaching for some catfish in the supermarket, make sure it's been harvested in the United States.